Somewhere in Maryland. It’s an eerie feeling, cycling in the woods, far from civilization. You could die out here and nobody would know for days until your income taxes were late.

The newspaper story would read, “Cyclist tries to fend off copperhead with tennis shoe and dies.”

My wife and I have been doing this remote trail together, but somehow we got split up this afternoon. I don’t know how I lost her. I know she’s biking ahead of me somewhere, but I haven’t seen her in a mile. I’m starting to get worried, thinking about all this copperhead business. I hate snakes.

This trail is full of fatal snake stories. You hear idle chatter from fellow hikers retelling tales about how some hapless soul once got snakebitten on the face by a copperhead while trying to take the snake’s picture.

There are a million chilling tales like this circulating around the trail.

So your senses get very heightened while you’re out here. Which isn’t a bad thing, actually. It’s exhilarating. It makes snacks taste better. Your vision gets

sharper. Scenery seems more intense.

After another few minutes, I see my wife in the distance. I am relieved to finally find her. She has stopped on the trail, straddling her bike, waiting for me. Her tiny black silhouette is far away against a cloudy sky. A canopy of oaks drape over her. She doesn’t see me yet.

This woman has been with me for nearly two decades. Sometimes it still feels like we just met last Tuesday.

Oh, how I wish time would slow down.

I’ve been thinking about some deep stuff in the woods this afternoon. It’s easy to do that in this space. It’s probably because you’re always staring at ancient trees that will outlive everyone’s great-great-great grandkids.

And you’re looking at towering volcanic prehistoric rocks that just sit here undisturbed. You think about how these rocks will…

CONFLUENCE, Pa.—We are in an itty-bitty town that is dotted with old houses. The low mountains slope downward into three giant converging rivers. There are herculean oaks everywhere. Lots of wildflowers. If they were going to remake “Sound of Music,” they would shoot it in Confluence.

And I’m scribbling notes about it all in my little notebook. Because this is what I do. I have carried a notebook for years now, it goes everywhere with me, and I write everything down. You never know when inspiration will hit you with a two-by-four.

Today the little Pennsylvania community is overrun with cyclists who are biking the Great Allegheny Passage through the Appalachian Mountains. Which is what my wife and I have been doing for the last five days.

We ride for hours until our butts have lost all sensation. Then we pull over and cheerfully pop handfuls of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication.

Out on the trail you get to know your fellow trail-riders because you pass each other a lot. You’re following the same bike route.

You sleep in the same towns, shelters, hostels, or roadside ditches. You eat at the same spots. You steal the same canteen water from the same unsuspecting residential homes.

I meet an older couple from Manhattan, New York. They are doing the trail together with two top-of-the-line mountain bikes. He’s 67, and recently recovering from a stroke. She is 63 and his lifeline.

He has a voice like a guy who might own a pizza joint in Brooklyn. She sounds like Edith Bunker. I love these people.

He’s fallen off his bike twice on the trail due to muscle weakness from the stroke. But he’s not discouraged.

He says, “Listen, I got no broken bones—knock on wood—and no cuts. I’m making it to the end, or so help me.”

I meet a young man from California. He’s doing the trail entirely on foot. Sometimes he hikes…

STONYCREEK TOWNSHIP, Pa.—The Flight 93 National Memorial sits on a broad green pasture. The field is remote, interrupted only by minimalist monuments standing in the distance, surrounded by vivid wildflowers.

One monument is a 93-foot high musical instrument, with 41 colossal wind chimes, making clunking sounds that sing across the meadow like a glockenspiel.

There is no other structure like this in the world.

The monument honors the 41 passengers and crewmembers from United Airlines Flight 93. The hijacked plane that crashed in this field 19 years ago.

The National Park Service runs this place today. But not so long ago this was open farmland.

It happened on a Tuesday morning. Perfect weather. Clear sky. Locals saw a Boeing 757 jerking through the air at an awkward angle.

Farmers watched in slack-jawed amazement. Commuters pulled over to see a commercial airliner bounce from the sky and slam into the Earth.

When the plane hit soil it sounded like the world had come apart at the bolts. A mile-high column of

black smoke wafted into the air. The clear sky was ruined.

Earlier that morning the flight had been due for takeoff from Newark International Airport at 8:01 a.m. But, because this is America (Land of the Free and Home of the Flight Delayed) the flight was running late by 41 minutes.

The passengers and crew were chatty that morning. People made conversations over Styrofoam coffee cups. It was usual talk.

They chatted about their kids’ soccer games. Work. The new fad diet that wasn’t making their thighs any smaller.

In the cockpit, pilot Jason Dahl was going through his preflight stuff. He was 43, cobby build, with a smile that looked like he could have been your favorite uncle Lou.

Jason always carried a little box of rocks with him. They were a gift from his son. When a man carries a box of rocks simply because his kid collected…

OHIOPYLE, Pa.—When we started this ridiculously long bike trail, I had no idea what the heck I was getting myself into.

A guy learns how out-of-shape he is when he’s riding a silly trike in the Appalachian Mountains.

That’s the ironic thing about doing trails. By the time you finish the trail you’re finally in-shape. But by then it doesn’t matter. Because the trail is finished and it’s time to eat Hostess products again.

My wife and I have been biking for two days in the Allegheny region of the Appalachians. Our route follows the roaring Youghiogheny River and it led us here, to the tiny town of Ohiopyle. Population 56.

My body hurts. And I mean all over. If it’s attached to me, it hurts. No matter how small the body part.

My fingernail? Hurts. Hair cuticles? Hurt. My nose? Totally sunburned.

Yesterday, my wife and I were the only people on a long stretch of trail that cut through the prettiest hill country known to mankind. We shuffled through miles of loveliness that became so overwhelming

you half wished the scenery would stop.

But the trail doesn’t stop. It goes on and on. And all you can do is pedal.

That’s what we do now. We pedal. We pedal until we forget we’re pedaling. We’re just existing. Breathing. Zombies. Two pieces of meat with legs.

Why are we pedaling? How did we start? It’s as though we’ve always been doing this. I came out of the womb pedaling. I will pedal until I die. And when they put me in the ground they will notice that my feet are still twitching.

My wife and I mostly ride in silence. It’s an odd thing, being on a trail from sunrise to sunset. You don’t talk much. In fact, you don’t have anything important to say. And you realize you never had anything important to say. Ninety percent of all…

SMITHTON—Sunrise. A small Pennsylvania town. I’m sipping weak coffee, writing from the porch of a small 1893 inn that overlooks Appalachia. American flags fly from every post, beam, telephone pole, and CB antenna.

Long ago this simple-looking inn used to be owned by a local brewery. The original bar is still in the barroom.

Back in the day, a barkeep would have served his lukewarm beer for pennies and rented rooms upstairs for a buck. But today, this place is just a remnant of old America.

The inn was turned into a bed and breakfast a few years ago. Mostly it caters to bicyclers who are foolish enough to cycle the Great Allegheny Passage Trail. Take, for example, me and my wife.

Ah yes. The trail. About that. We have been pedaling this multi-state trail for a full day. We started yesterday morning in Pittsburgh. We arrived in Smithton at sundown. After our long ride, we crawled into bed and fell asleep in under nine seconds.

It seems like we’ve been cycling for a hundred

thousand miles, but I looked at a map and realized we have only traveled fifty. We have a long, long, LONG way left to go. I don’t know if I’m going to make it.

Already my legs feel like they’ve been beaten with a blackjack billy club. My joints are sore, my eyes are sunken, I’m dehydrated, and I’ve lost all my teeth.

Still. The profound greenery of Appalachia is worth the effort. In fact, it’s too much beauty for the written word.

This morning, I stumbled onto the porch to see nothing but tree-covered hills draped in chowder-thick fog. I saw Queen Anne homes, Victorian rooftop spires, and church steeples. And Canada geese were flying overhead, honking out a morning melody.

“You actually have Canada geese here?” I said to a local guy who was beside me.

“Course we have geese,” he said, “This…

Three pounds. That’s not much. A pineapple weighs three pounds. So does a jar of Crisco. The human brain weighs three pounds.

That doesn’t seem like much weight, but think about it. Human brains have built modern society, fed starving nations, cured deadly diseases, and given us the U.S. Tax Code.

The human brain came up with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Einstein’s three-pounder proved relativity. And once, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, two brilliant young men combined their three-pound organs to create Delta Airlines.

I’m thinking a lot about the human brain right now. Because at this moment I am cycling on a busy Pittsburg super highway with a plastic helmet covering my brain.

My wife is pedaling behind me. Vehicles speed by, traveling 120 miles per hour. Drivers honk horns. Motorists flick cigarette butts out windows. A semi-truck blows his whistle.

How did I get here? What led me to this profound life moment? That’s when it hits me. My three-pound brain.

The reason we are in Pittsburgh is because this is where the Great Allegheny Passage

bike trail begins. And our brains thought this trail would be fun.

The Allegheny Passage is a very long trail that starts in Pittsburgh and runs through the Appalachian Mountains. It crosses the Eastern Continental Divide, the Mason-Dixon Line, and the Maryland border.

Then the trail runs into the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal trail which lopes hundreds of miles across historic waterways, forests, rivers, farmland, covered bridges, and small towns. It snakes through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and finally peters out in Washington D.C.

So that’s why I’m on this busy highway. We are going to ride this trail.

I’ve never been to Pittsburgh before. And to tell the truth, I visualized my first experience going differently.

On the highway, I see a police cruiser parked near the curb. I pull over to ask for directions to our hotel. The policewoman glances at…

My wife and I are on the way to Virginia, driving northward on a bumpy two-lane highway. We have a long way left to drive.

I have spent the morning riding through Tennessee, tailgating a beat up Chevy with a license plate that reads: “Virginia is for lovers.”

I’ve been staring at these four words for nearly two hours. And the slogan has started to aggravate me. What a corny phrase. I wonder what yahoo came up with that one.

Then we cross the state line into Virgina.

All of a sudden I am driving through steep green hillsides that look like they belong in Scotland. Every two minutes I pass a rural scene so arresting that I have to pull over to see if it’s real.

The mountainsides are quilted in uniform grass, dotted with trees, and the cattle are grazing. Every wildwood barn, vacant schoolhouse, dilapidated RV, and abandoned water heater is swallowed in kudzu.

“Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?” my wife asks.

No. I have not.

This is my first

visit to Virginia and nobody prepared me for what it would look like. In fact, I feel silly trying to describe to you all that I’m seeing.

The pavement carries us into valleys that slice through the Middle of Nowhere. We take horseshoe curves that shoot us into highlands, grasslands, forestlands, and farmland.

The farther we drive, the more churches we see. We see a new chapel every seven feet. Sometimes closer than that. There are so many churches in the state of Virginia, Bill Gaither could run for governor.

And old homes. I’ve never seen so many American farmhouses. Many of these homesteads sit on gracious cliffs. Other houses have as many as two, three, or four axles.

I pass a cow bathing herself in a craggy mountain stream, she’s looking at me. I pass a man plowing a field with a red belly…